She quit real estate to grow bamboo

Ms Divine Nabaweesi at her bamboo nursery bed in Najjeera, Wakiso district. PHOTO BY MICHAEL KAKUMIRIZI

What you need to know:

  • The university graduate was bored with her job in real estate and decided to try her hand at growing bamboo. Emmanuel Ainebyoona found out how Divine Nabaweesi is venturing into large-scale commercial Bamboo plantations.
  • With Shs20 milion savings accumulated while working as a real estate agent, Nabaweesi invested in a green business with a particular interest in growing bamboo.
  • Uganda’s deforestation rate is estimated at 200,000 hectares per year whereas the forest cover is estimated at 11 per cent.

Inspired by reading and watching news on climate change, Divine Nabaweesi quit being a real estate agent to start a social enterprise business of Bamboo growing.
She says the turning point was after she lost interest and passion of continuing as a real estate agent –a job she held for seven years.

“It’s when I decided to take a few months off and think about my life that I started reading about trees. As you know, there is something in the news about climate change and deforestation every day,” she says.
Instead of getting fatigued and bored about the news on the impacts of climate change, Nabaweesi decided to start a green business.

With Shs20 milion savings accumulated while working as a real estate agent, Nabaweesi invested in a green business with a particular interest in growing bamboo.

The Makerere University graduate of Social Works and Administration has since piloted her business through establishing a nursery bed hosted in the backyard of their family house in Najjera, Wakiso District.
Highly planted in China and other parts of Asia, Nabaweesi was first challenged with finding shoots to plant in her nursery bed. However, she later managed to acquire some shoots of species known as dendrocalamus asper from Luzira. The Bamboo specie is green and also known as dragon bamboo.

For about two months now, the 33 year-old says the shoots planted in her nursery bed are showing positive results. She says the process of tree planting involved the construction of the nursery shed, clearing the land and planting these shoots in units.

“I started with a nursery bed because I wanted to see how the tree progresses in terms of growth,” she expounds, adding that she has been impressed by growth rate of the 12,000 tree seedlings in the nursery bed.
At the nursery, she employs one worker who is charged with watering, weeding and inspecting the nursery at monthly fee of Shs200, 000.

Prepared to do large-scale commercial Bamboo plantations, Nabaweesi recently acquired 60 acres of land in Kasokwe, Kanyunga District for a 15-year lease period where she plans to have three harvesting seasons.
She holds a “crop-share agreement,” and under this agreement, the tenant does not pay cash but rather shares profits from the crops with the landowner.

On October 29, Nabaweesi wants to raise awareness about bamboo by planting the highest number of trees on 60 acres of land with an intention of creating a Guinness world record.
After transferring some of the tree seedlings for plantations, Nabaweesi says she plans to recruit about 10 full-time workers to maintain the trees after planting is complete. She says.

“My Bamboo will take five years to mature,” Nabaweesi says adding: “My potential clients are Ugandans in need of charcoal, construction material, food and energy. Through a process known as gasification, bamboo can be heated to produce energy. The bi-products such as Bio-char can be transformed into charcoal.”

Unlike other hard wood trees, Nabaweesi says bamboo is a grass and regenerates faster once cut down. She is optimistic that her bamboo business will help improve livelihoods through fighting poverty and climate Change.
Nabaweesi says bamboo regenerates and grows fast and can be harvested in a four to five year period unlike the other available options.

“Bamboo is one of fastest growing plants on earth. There are some species which grow up to half a metre a day and in two months, there are some species which can grow up 30 metres tall,” she says.

“Some studies show that bamboo captures carbon dioxide 20 times more than an equivalent stand of trees and gives out more oxygen compared to other fast growing trees like eucalyptus,” she explains.

She adds that it can be used to replace traditional timber if Uganda decided to invest in commercial bamboo plantation. Other notable economic and cultural significances of bamboo include: being used for building materials, as a food source, and as a versatile raw product. Bamboo rivals steel in terms of compressive strength more than wood, brick, or concrete.

“We can develop an industry so that we don’t have to cut our trees because deforestation is one of the biggest problems,” she suggests
Already, she is in talks with the Ministry of Water and Environment and the National Forestry Authority (NFA) to see how they can create a public-private partnership aimed a planting more trees top replenish the forest cover.
Regarding, profitability, she says the bamboo project will make money in a responsible way while at the same time conserving the environment.
Through partnerships, she hopes to provide free tree seedlings to out-growers interested in growing bamboo.
Her most outstanding challenges are limited access to bamboo species and access to finance.
“There is need to plant a lot of bamboo to create supply need to support the industry because government has already bought machines,” she says.

In her advice to fellow youth, Nabaweesi quotes Zig Ziglar, an American author saying: “You can have everything you want if you can help enough other people to get want they need.”
She also advises youth to invest in something that has meaning to their lives.
“Youth should focus on starting sustainable businesses which solve Africa’s biggest problems. In my case, bamboo addresses livelihoods, bio-energy and climate change,” she says.
However, her worries could be short-lived if global leaders under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) succeed in implementing the creation of $100 billion Green Climate Fund aimed at supporting green projects like Divine Bamboo.
Recently, while speaking at one of the events in the run-up to COP22 to be hosted in Morocco’s city of Marrakesh, Mr Said Mouline, the head of Public-Private Partnerships, indicated that the green fund will benefit people who invest in climate change mitigation and adaptation projects. After the Paris Climate Conference, world leaders hope to invest more in renewable energy with the aim of reducing greenhouse gases and keeping global temperature rise below a maximum of two degrees celsius.

Tree planting

Ms Margaret Athieno Mwebesa , the assistant commissioner for forestry at the Ministry of Water and Environment, said government recently acquired a grant from the Climate Investment Fund to create a strategic plan for reclamation.
She added that Uganda wants to plant at least 2.5 milliion hectares of trees.
Uganda’s deforestation rate is estimated at 200,000 hectares per year whereas the forest cover is estimated at 11 per cent.